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Utah says married same-sex couples can file joint tax return

For once, it was a pretty good idea to get hitched in a hurry.

Utah has announced that same-sex couples who were married at the end of 2013 will be eligible to file joint state tax returns, granting some legal recognition to more than 1,000 couples who wed when the practice was briefly legal there.

Those unions remain in legal and political limbo, however. A federal judge stuck down Utah's same-sex marriage ban Dec. 20, spurring gay and lesbian couples to wed -- and to earn the legal and financial benefits that often come with wedlock. But the U.S. Supreme Court put the weddings on hold Jan. 6 while a federal appeals court considers the state's appeal.

In the brief interim during which same-sex marriage was legal, about 1,300 Utah couples reportedly tied the knot.

The high court's intervention gave Utah a kind of bureaucratic whiplash, with state officials trying to decide whether they were obligated to recognize the unions that had just been forbidden once more.

The federal government said it would recognize the marriages. But the Utah governor's office, after a legal review, directed state agencies not to recognize same-sex marriages until the matter was resolved in the courts.

Which means the notice issued by the state's tax authority Wednesday marked a slight change in course.

The Utah State Tax Commission said couples filing joint federal returns for 2013 would be eligible to file joint state returns too. Couples who were married before Dec. 31 were eligible to file joint returns, the commission's notice said.

The commission did not explain its decision, noting simply that tax statuses could change as same-sex marriage is debated in the courts. A commission spokesman told the Salt Lake Tribune that the federal judge's decision had guided the move but didn't elaborate.

The commission's decision follows an announcement by U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. last week that the federal government would recognize Utah's same-sex marriages regardless of the state's decisions.

Utah's Republican governor, Gary Herbert, has vowed to fight the gay marriage decision, but now finds himself presiding over a state increasingly unsure of its stance.

A Salt Lake Tribune poll released Tuesday showed Utahans evenly split on whether to allow same-sex marriage, a dramatic shift from when 66% of voters approved the state's ban in 2004.

In the weeks since the judge's ruling, Herbert's office has received about 1,800 calls, emails and letters supporting same-sex marriage, with about 900 more opposed, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

The state's appeal rests with the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. Its decision will also affect Oklahoma, where a federal judge struck down a same-sex marriage ban this week but stayed his ruling until the appeals court makes a decision.

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